Every day when I pull into my garage, my headlights illuminate a box of solar garden lanterns my father bought for me for Christmas a few years ago. Every time I see them I am reminded that I need to set them up. But something stops me. I don’t know what it is, really. Maybe I feel like I don’t have the time to do it. Part of me is unsure exactly where to put them. But I have to admit that I also worry it will be too complicated. That I won’t be able to figure it out quickly. That I’ll get bogged down with it. And so these beautiful lights are still sitting in the box in our garage.
A couple of shelves over from the solar lights are bags of palm tree supplements and fertilizers. I bought them a few months ago with the good intention of trying to give our trees an extra leg up in the scorching summer heat. Every weekend, I see on my list of weekend projects, “fertilize palm trees”. But the bags are still sitting on the shelf. They are heavy and stinky. And it’s hot outside. Admittedly it is not at the top of my list of priorities. But really, why have I let them sit for so long? When I’m totally honest with myself, I realize it’s because I’m anxious about whether or not I’ll figure out the right ratios and the right way to spread the stuff around the dirt – whether I’ll have to dig or sprinkle, and then I just figure there’s something more pressing that needs to get done.
Silly, stupid stuff, right? Maybe. Maybe not. The other day it hit me that these things I let sit in the garage may be indicative of a larger, more significant pattern in my life. One that is keeping me stuck and jamming up my creative energy. You see, I haven’t written in a very long time. I love to write. It frees me. It feeds me. And yet I haven’t allowed myself to do it. Why?
I got hung up in my head. Silly decisions that I kept putting off. Little complications that I allowed to fester and grow. What to write about? Should I do an article or a video? Where should I post it, now that I have a couple of different websites and a column that I contribute to? When should I write? What if I can’t get it all done in the time I have? What if I start and then I can’t finish? I go around and around in my head until I become incredibly irritated with myself.
And then I go find something else to do. Something safe. Something clean and easy to check the box on. And I have a few seconds of a very fleeting and artificial sense of accomplishment that slowly fades into a nagging, unsettling feeling. Over the last few weeks, I’ve developed an irritating muscle cramp that has become so painful I am having trouble moving in certain ways. Whether it is related or not, it is the perfect physical equivalent to what is going on in my mind.
And this morning it hit me. The dynamic that keeps me from tackling the boxes and bags in the garage is the same dynamic that has blocked my writing. I’m in fear. And I’m doubting myself. I’m worrying about all the things that could go wrong. That could make things hard. And I’m creating all kinds of distractions and complications to keep myself from doing what I really need to do most. And it is becoming painful.
The last box that I let sit for months was a printer we got over the summer for my kids to use for their school projects. I could tell you it sat in the box because they didn’t really need it until school started. But the truth is, it stayed in the box because I didn’t want to deal with it. In my mind it was a complicated endeavor that would have me confused and take hours of time. After school started again, I realized I had to muscle up and get the darn thing plugged in.
I know some of you are probably laughing right now. Really? How hard can it be to set up a printer? When I finally tore open the box and started following the directions I was laughing at myself too. It really wasn’t that hard. Until we flipped the switch and got an error message that the carriage was jammed before we ever even put paper in it. I spent the next forty minutes talking to technical support and then finally boxing up the printer to send back to the manufacturer (I had waited too long to be able to just bring it back to the store.)
My fear was validated in the same way that it was validated the last time I tried to assemble a piece of furniture only to find that when I thought I was almost done I had to completely disassemble everything and put it back together again following instructions written in really bad English and accompanied by pictures that didn’t look anything like the parts I had.
This morning I realized it’s not that my fear isn’t justified.
It’s just that I can’t let it stop me.
I almost let this fear keep me from coaching my daughter’s volleyball team. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a really long time. But I hesitated because my daughter has never actually played volleyball and I have never coached any sport at all. What if I couldn’t remember how the game goes, what the positions are, how the players rotate? What if I let the girls (or their parents) down? What if it becomes apparent that I haven’t the slightest idea what I’m doing?
I didn’t see it as a lucky thing at the time, but it turned out that the only way my daughter and her friends could be on the same team was if I became their coach. So I did. Reluctantly at first – and somewhat begrudgingly. Then I realized that despite my reservations, it’s really a lot of fun. And I don’t have to have all the answers. Others are happy to help me fill in the gaps, tell me what I don’t know, give me ideas, and offer support. And the look on the girls’ faces when they do something they couldn’t do before is priceless. Thank God I didn’t let my silly doubts and fears keep me from this amazing experience.
Funny how little things like solar lanterns and palm tree fertilizer can provoke such powerful insights. The irony that I am a coach who helps others get out of their fear and into their zones isn’t lost on me. But I get it. I understand why it’s so hard. And I also know why it is so very important. That’s why I wanted to share with you my own inner struggles – because we all have them. The only thing that really matters is what we do about it.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some palm trees to fertilize.
Photo credit: David Castillo Domenici, Free Digital Photos
After our kids finished school for the summer, we decided to take a last minute road trip to California. It was late in the afternoon, and we needed to leave right away if we didn’t want to be driving into the wee hours of the morning.
I wasn’t packed and the house was a mess. Previously, when we’ve taken road trips, I have meticulously prepared, spending an hour or two deciding what I would bring, and adding a few contingencies to allow for unpredictable weather or in case I didn’t like my outfit choices once I arrived. Naturally almost every trip I’ve been on involved bringing way too many clothes, which ended up taking almost as much time to return to the closet when I came back as it did to put them in the suitcase in the first place.
In the past, I have also taken way too much time preparing for the drive itself — organizing bags of red licorice, dried fruit, nuts and chips; packing a cooler with water and sodas and sliced fruit; figuring out what music we might want to listen to, what movies the kids could watch, what devices would keep them occupied so they didn’t ask every five minutes if we were there yet.
I would think about all the things we’d need in the hotel to make our stay more enjoyable too – extra pillows, blankets, peanut butter and bread in case someone needed a snack between meals, and ground coffee for the coffee maker that is high on my list of favorite features in the kitchenette style suites we always stay at. Oh, and of course coffee filters to brew it in.
I like to tidy up before we leave too, so that we come back to a nice, refreshingly clean house (which often takes hours in itself).
But this trip required spur of the moment action. It didn’t allow for any of my careful planning and deliberation over every little thing I could think of (which in the past has ended up pushing back our planned departure time by hours, much to my husband’s dismay.)
And this time, strangely I was up for it. It was only a two day trip – how hard could it be? I went into the closet with a little gym bag and picked a couple of t-shirts and a pair of shorts. I grabbed something to sleep in and scooped my makeup and facial care products together. It was the smallest bag I’ve ever packed. Done!
I walked into the pantry with a plastic grocery bag and randomly threw things in it, not even sure exactly what landed, grabbed my coffee and some filters (because, really that’s an essential). And we jumped in the car.
There were dishes in the sink and all over the counter, along with the contents of the backpacks of each of my children — who had dumped out everything they had accumulated over the entire school year as soon as soon as they came home. The clothes we had washed the night before were in a pile on the rocking chair, waiting to be sorted and folded. And each kid’s room looked like a bomb went off in it (as it often does).
“What about this mess?” I said to my husband as we headed toward the door, herding our three children toward the car. “It’ll still be here when we come home,” he shot back. I swallowed my resistance and slipped into the passenger seat as he turned the key in the ignition.
And before we knew it, we were backing out of the driveway and headed for the road. It was so unlike me to be ready for anything on the spur of the moment, but it felt strangely exhilarating. I was free and unencumbered. I had left my unnecessary baggage behind me. And I was finally traveling light.
I wasn’t outfitted in the way I had tried so hard to be in the past, with stuff I thought would allow me to rise up to any occasion. But my mind was ready. I felt nimble and quick, like I could think on my feet about what to do with anything that came my way.
And as we continued our six hour drive from Phoenix to San Diego, I mused over how often I had over thought and unnecessarily complicated so many other things in my life. How many times did I plan and prepare what I thought was a foolproof strategy and then wait until conditions seemed perfect to execute it, almost missing my window of opportunity altogether? How much procrastinating have I done by convincing myself that I needed to prepare my workspace and get completely organized before I could concentrate and make headway on a task? And how often did I find that the time I allocated to work on something ended up dwindling to nothing by the time I had finished preparing myself to start?
I suddenly recalled exercises I did in school that involved reading over a few paragraphs with way too much information and crossing out the sentences and words that were redundant. And how beautifully those paragraphs read without all that unnecessary stuff.
Perhaps I am headed for a simplification of my very self, a lightening, and a back to basics way of living my life — one where I am unencumbered by my fear, my worries, my futile attempts to try to control every variable with a plan that takes way to long to figure out and even longer to execute (and often ends up missing the mark anyway).
So I applied this new way of approaching things to writing this article. I sat myself down and noticed that familiar urge to get a snack, pour myself a glass of water, make sure I had replied to any pressing emails, go around in circles about what I want to write about. Not this time, I decided. Instead, I opened up a word document and started typing a stream of consciousness. Random thoughts that made no sense whatsoever. I wrote about how I had no idea what to write about, how ridiculous it was to think I could sit down and just jump in. And how I was kind of scared that once I finally figured it out, I wouldn’t do it justice.
I noticed my tendency to want to go back and read what I had already written, and perfect and edit it before I had even finished. And I made myself just keep on writing. Just get it done. Just jump in the car. Just grab what you need and figure the rest out along the way.
Eventually the article you are now reading spilled onto the page. Pretty messy at first. But I got it done. I got out of my own freaking way, and I got it done. And it felt good. A whole new way of looking at things. A whole new way of being. Me, pared down, minus unnecessary fears, protests, layers of protection, feet dragging. Me. Right here, right now.
It felt a little strange – like writing with the wrong hand, or going outside with my clothes on backwards. I’m aware of the fear that if I don’t spend hours preparing for something, I might forget an important detail or face a situation I’m not equipped for. But I have a feeling that the more I do this, the more I’ll learn to trust something in myself that knows exactly what I need for any given task – without having to think about it all that much. And that would be worth more than anything my most careful, cautious planning and preparation has gotten me.
Maybe all I really need is my coffee. (And perhaps one day, I’ll learn to function without that too.)
Stay tuned for the launch of a new video series, On the Road to Real: The Adventures of Pistachio (coming in July via OnTheRoadtoReal.com), designed to help each of us move beyond the old habits and patterns that keep us from the road that leads to true happiness and lasting fulfillment.